Suu Kyi makes history with oath to enter parliament

BANGKOK: The Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, became a parliamentarian for the first time yesterday in a further sign of the former dictatorship's political opening.

Ms Suu Kyi took an oath required for lawmakers in the capital of Naypyidaw after dropping a demand that officials change its wording. Her National League for Democracy, which won 43 of 45 seats up for grabs in April 1 byelections, had objected to language supporting the military-drafted constitution.

''This is a historic moment,'' Thaung Tun, a retired Burmese diplomat who is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said. ''Now you have a formal opposition in Myanmar [Burma]. It's a good beginning for the democratic process.''

Ms Suu Kyi's participation in Parliament adds to a political opening over the past year that has put the nation of 62 million people back on the map for investors. The US said this month it will lift economic and financial restrictions on certain sectors of Burma's economy, Japan forgave about US$3.7 billion ($3.6 billion) of debt and the European Union suspended sanctions.

Following the NLD's wins in byelections, where it took control of less than 10 per cent of the 664-member body, members wanted the oath for parliamentarians changed to say they would ''respect'' rather than ''safeguard'' the constitution. Ms Suu Kyi dropped the demand two days ago ''because of the people's desire,'' spokesman Nyan Win said by phone on Monday.

The transition to democracy needed ''flexibility in the political process,'' Ms Suu Kyi said.